The broken windows of Iqaluit’s social housing units tell desperate stories of senseless destruction

Anger, boredom and battered buildings


Behind every broken window in Iqaluit, there's usually a story that involves alcohol and anger, or hormones and boredom.

Whether the glass is smashed by a jealous boy­friend or a depressed teen, it's largely paid for by the Iqaluit housing authority, which maintains the city's 453 social housing units.

There are a lot of broken windows. Many are boarded up with plywood. Others are covered with tarps or garbage bags as flimsy protection from the cold.

Deenah Kelly, secretary manager of Iqaluit Housing Authority, can't count the number of shattered windows in the city, but she knows her organization spends $12,000 each month on maintenance, and much of that goes to repairing damage in social housing units.

"And we can't keep up. That's why you see boarded-up windows," she says.

In past years the amount spent on plate glass alone in one year could build a new unit.

Tenants are billed for damage, but many can't pay. The authority is owed $1.3 million in back payments for damages.

It's enough money to build eight social housing units in a place where homes are in such desperately short supply, residents can expect to wait up to three years to be placed in a social housing unit.

Right now 125 people are waiting in line. Some are single moms. Others are young men and women who want to move into a place of their own.

Each has a uniquely desperate story, and they often come to Kelly to tell it. She reduces each one to a number of points, based on the applicant's income, number of family members, bedrooms needed, and how long they have waited.

The housing shortage is so acute, even the shacks inhabited by otherwise-homeless people on the beach behind NorthMart appear to be in high demand. One poster stapled around town advertises, "Young man from Iqaluit, employed, smoker, with dogs, looking for shack to live in. I can provide heating."

Meanwhile, homes crammed full of several families create a vicious cycle: less space usually means more fighting. Fighting leaves holes in walls, broken doors and smashed windows. And this damage costs the housing authority money that could be spent on more housing.

At worst, some units are "totalled," Kelly says. Walls are punched full of holes and covered with graffiti. Doors are kicked off their hinges. An axe has been taken the fridge and oven. The washroom's ceramic tiles are smashed, and the toilet has been ripped from the floor.

Such a unit may cost $10,000 for the housing authority's trades people to patch up as best they can. Then a new family moves in.

Of course, some tenants take pride in keeping their units tidy and clean. But when they step outside into the common hallway of some Iqaluit buildings, they may find homeless people asleep on the floor, puddles of urine and piles of old food.

"People are bringing their children into this," Kelly says. "If I had to live with that, I wouldn't be too happy, either."

Some damage is simply preventable. The washroom ceilings of some dwellings are coated with mold. It could easily be cleaned with bleach, or prevented by using the washroom fan after a shower.

Kelly's biggest frustration is that many tenants fear her. "People get in a hole, and are afraid to see us," she says.

The first impulse of many public housing tenants is to hide damage. It doesn't work, Kelly says, and usually just results in a bigger mess, costing more money, in the end, when the building is inspected and the damage is found.

Over the years some people have owed the authority up to $30,000, which they usually have no means of paying off. Until the debt is paid, they aren't eligible for social housing. It's another reason why the dilapidated wooden sheds by the beach hold more than outboard motors and camping supplies, but also people, with nowhere else to go.

Far better, Kelly says, to come to her office, before a hole is dug too deep, and explain the situation. She says she tries her best to come up with a payment schedule tenants can live with, and it won't result in their eviction.

"We're not the unhousing authority," she says. "We're not here to put people out."

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